In November 2018, independent research firm Verdantix released its sixth annual EHS global survey of 411 decision-makers across 25 industries and 35 countries. One of the key findings from the report is that 60% of respondents perceive innovation as a high priority for the EHS function, and 23% see it as absolutely essential.
Despite this clear acknowledgement by EHS professionals of the importance of technological innovation, there are still some instances where companies are not properly recognizing the need (or even the urgency) of accelerating the pace of adoption of innovations. This is especially worrisome since we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, and failure to keep up with technological changes can result in a clear competitive disadvantage.
The digital technologies that are impacting the EHS function mentioned by the Verdantix report include EHS software, digital sensors, wearables, vehicle telematics, predictive analytics, mobile apps and drones. These technologies have many different applications.
12 Examples of Applications
For companies that are still lagging in technology adoption, here are 12 concrete examples of the use of innovations. These examples show how much technology already impacts the EHS function, and therefore why organizations must be sure not to be left behind:
- Mobile apps to perform audits and inspections, as well as to view or submit safe work permits.
- Drone inspections in dangerous atmospheric environments, at heights, or in very remote locations (e.g. inspections of pipelines in the middle of nowhere).
- The use of robots to eliminate tasks that pose a severe risk of injury or fatality (e.g. robots used for welding, mechanical arms to handle or move hazardous materials).
- Thermal imaging to detect leaks.
- Proximity detection to further protect workers.
- Artificial intelligence for context-aware suggestions of controls or action plans for specific risks, hazards or incidents, based on analysis of historical data.
- Predictive analytics to identify facilities or work areas with the highest risks of incidents, and therefore requiring controls and extra attention from an EHS staff.
- RFID technology, as well as electromagnetic, microwave and smart-camera systems that trigger alarms and/or slow heavy equipment when a human is detected.
- Wearable technologies such as personal heat-stress monitoring, exoskeletons and office ergonomic positioning.
- In-vehicle monitoring systems such as accelerometers to monitor vehicle performance and cameras to capture images inside and outside the vehicle, in order to reduce risky driving behaviors like speeding.
- The use of robots in emergency response through scene visualization and as perimeter security monitors.
- Smart sensors to monitor a storage tank’s walls for stability and the liquid contents within to ensure they are in the correct balance.
This list is just a sample. It’s not exhaustive. It’s easy to be intimidated or discouraged if your organization is not yet on board with some of these innovations. But there are steps you can take to fix the problem.
Know Where You Are
First, many analysts and innovative organizations recommend that companies benchmark against others in their industry, and share innovative ideas, in order to drive incremental safety improvements. If a specific firm in an industry has a stellar safety performance, but the industry as a whole is suffering from a bad reputation, it won’t be long before it affects everyone. There is a mutual interest to share innovative ideas.
Second, organizations should create a roadmap for the adoption of EHS technologies. This is what Verdantix advocates. Tracking the adoption of innovative technologies on a roadmap helps companies understand the effect that they will have on the organization and workers. It also helps them determine when some technologies should be phased out in favor of newer ones.
In a second post on the same topic, we will explain the challenges associated with the adoption of new technologies. These challenges are not show-stoppers, but it’s good to be aware of them. Stay tuned!
Download this Research Spotlight report from LNS Research and learn more about the ways in which Industry 4.0 and the IIoT will apply to business in general and EHS in particular: